Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fabric and Textile Shopping in Istanbul

After our Greek Island Odyssey, we finished our trip with a few days in Istanbul. Now that I am at home (sniff, sniff) and have had a few days to reflect, here are some thoughts on shopping in Istanbul.  Other sewing bloggers (Slapdash and Selfish) have blogged about the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul not really having much to offer in the way of fabric. I concur. Aside from Gülipek Tekstil which exclusively sells silk, most of the (very few) fabric stores' stock seems to be geared toward belly dance costumes.

Coincidence: Display of hand crank sewing machines in the lobby of our hotel.

However, Istanbul is not a bad place to fabric shop (more on this at the end). In addition, there are plenty of opportunities to buy textile products at the Grand Bazaar, where it seems like every other stall sells pashminas. I found that having sewist's fingers was immeasurably helpful.  In fact, aside from a few knick-knacks for my nephews, all of my purchases were fabric and textile oriented. Here's what we bought, interspersed with some completely unrelated pictures from the Istanbul leg of our trip.

L to R: Hers and His Peştemals

Peştemals - There are loads of places to buy the traditional Turkish towel/sarong used at a hamam (Turkish bath) in either cotton or bamboo. My sister, Calliope, and I bought cotton peştemal bathrobes for our parents for their 65th birthdays which just passed while they were on the Camino. The opening ask price for most that we saw at the Bazaar was $40 Turkish Lira (about $20USD), but they were thin and the fabric was kind of stiff. Most were one size. We kept hunting and found significantly better quality ones for $60TL - they were thicker, softer and a better/more dense weave. Also, they came in sizes that will fit our tall parents. We negotiated the shop owner down to $50TL each. Perhaps we could have gotten them for less outside of the Grand Bazaar, but definitely not in the US. Not for this quality.

Fabric close up

Carpets - One of the most fun things we did was shop for a teeny tiny hand knotted wool carpet for Calliope. She ended up buying from a shop owner who spent a lot of time with us explaining the differences between kilims (woven) and carpets (knotted), and hand vs machine made. It was easy to see. On the hand-knotted ones you could see the small imperfections on the back side. Again, sewists fingers helped. She's not going to let me do a burn test, but I am pretty sure that the carpet Calliope bought is, in fact, wool.

Phin outside Sultan Ahmet's Mosque (aka The Blue Mosque)

Ikat - My one fabric purchase was a meter + 10 cm of silk, hand-loomed ikat.  It is only a little over 15" wide and is meant for home dec applications. The price was non-negotiable ($60TL/meter), so I negotiated for an extra 10cm of fabric. The shop owner thought I was funny and gave in. I think this will become some kind of purse or other accessory. Suggestions?

1 meter+ of ikat

 Leather - There are loads of leather shops in the Grand Bazaar and at least one that sold fur, too. My final textile purchase was soft leather baby booties for my brand new nephew who was born while I was away. Obviously, being familiar with leather helped.

Where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea (Lunch in Asia)

Suzani Fabric - I didn't shop for any, but there were any number of shops selling Uzbeki suzani fabrics and textiles. These are very heavy weight and really only usable for home dec. Stunning, but not for me.

Other Fabric and Notions - So, what to do if you do want to shop for fabric while in Istanbul? Well, there were plenty of fabric and notions stores on the blocks between the Spice Market and Grand Bazaar, and from there up to Sulimanye Mosque. I didn't go inside, but there were stores specializing in trims, zippers, buttons galore and, at least from the street view, a normal array of fabric (ie: cottons, wools, knits, lace, etc and nary a belly dancer to be found).

If luxury is more your speed, there was a much more high end fabric shop with beautiful wool suitings and high end cottons in it's window right on İstiklâl Caddesi, the main shopping street in the older part of Istanbul. So, the sense that I get is there must be a vibrant sewing community in Istanbul. In fact, look at this funny piece of kitch that I bought from a vendor while walking across the Bosphorus Bridge.

Get yours here. At just $5TL ($2.50USD), I couldn't resist.

It's a stapler sewing machine. He he he.

OK, here's a few parting shots...

Topkapi Palace

Calliope and Phin at the Bosphorus Bridge

Phin outside Sulimanye Moque

Bosphorus Cruise: Vacation frame of mind


Clio said...

I've bought wool at that fancy store on Istikal Caddesi - it was a remnant though - I didn't dare ask the price of other fabric. I didn't even discover the fabric section of the Grand Bazaar - I hovered there for a bit, and then fled. My favorite Grand Bazaar bit was the Turkish delight store, I loved that place!

Your vacation sounds lovely!

Clio said...

The Bazaar can be overwhelming! I was happy that I was there with my sister and Phin. The three of us did fine and there were some funny moments. One vendor said to us "Can't I sell you something you don't need?"

Clio said...

Sounds like a good trip. Sewing and tailoring are still huge in Istanbul and the rest of Turkey but you can't find much in the tourist areas. That's because Turks don't see sewing as a hobby. It's a job (their major industry in fact). That place where you found the shops (Fatih) - there's a major fabric market there on Wednesdays. There are other places to buy too but they are off the beaten track a bit. And, by the way, that's Karakoy bridge. It's lovely but its tiny and it spans the Golden Horn, not the Bosphorus. There are two bridges over th Bosphorus and they are both huge suspension bridges.

Clio said...

It was wonderful! Actually, I had meant to say the Galata Bridge.

That is the sense that I got - textiles are very important. Even the shop where I bought the ikat was much more of an upholstery shop than a fabric store. Too bad it wasn't a Wednesday when I was there!

Clio said...

Looks like a fantastic trip!

Clio said...

I love the vacation frame of mind! Your silk ikat is gorgeous. I'd want to use it in a garment, so I'm no help.

Clio said...

How amazing is Istanbul? Seeing your pictures reminds me of my travels there, back in 2005. A long time ago now! I almost wish I had been into sewing back then so I could check out these haunts :)

Clio said...

Hahaha. Yes, you're right. Galata Bridge! Though they are rather similar. I should remember Galata Bridge. I almost fell through it in the dark years ago, when in the dark I ignored the barriers around the road works. Typical Istanbulian behavior! I adapted fast, obviously....

Clio said...

You are making me want to go back to Istanbul! We had hideous weather (freezing cold and torrential rain) the whole time we were there and it really sucked. I need the Istanbul experience! Gorgeous photos, and now I can't wait for my Greek island trip (I hope) in the Fall.

Clio said...

Hi Ruth, Im going to Istanbul next week and would be really interested to know of any fabric sellers you can recommend, I'm looking for Ikat specifically. If you reply I'll send you my email address. Georgie